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WIDESCREEN: The broad palette of Ryan Murphy

Feud, the latest project from the restless TV show creator, is typically multi-layered offering.
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Is there anything Ryan Murphy can’t do?

If it leaked that he was behind a top-secret project to turn microwave ovens into spy cameras, you’d have to concede they probably got the right guy for the job.

Murphy, you see, is a man of many interests, and he’s been fortunate enough to be able to explore several of them through his television creations. For the last 15 years or so, the former journalist has been able to indulge in everything from horror to high school musicals.

Nip/Tuck, an intense drama series about a pair of cosmetic surgeons with complicated professional and personal lives, ran for six seasons and garnered critical and popular notice.

Later, the music students at William McKinley High School were responsible for even more professional rejuvenation than those doctors. Glee, co-created by Murphy, premiered in the spring of 2009, and it’s difficult to overstate just what a phenomenon it was, for a time.

Exhibit A: Not that it ever really disappeared, but Don’t Stop Believin’, the Journey chestnut, got a third or fourth life thanks to the show, which included several cover versions of popular songs in each episode.

In particular, the first couple of seasons of Glee were really well done. However, as the young adult cast eventually grew out of high school and other actors were promoted, the show seemed to go a bit out of tune.

Murphy solved that entropy problem with American Horror Story, an anthology series on FX that has completely unique stories for each season, albeit often with actors who have become part of a Murphy repertory company.

Jessica Lange, especially, has been pretty much conducting an acting clinic whenever she’s on the screen. The veteran performer hadn’t been padding her resume with fluffy film work, and these extravagant and sometimes genuinely shocking miniseries have been a terrific reminder of how good she is.

Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson have also been utilized well in the various iterations of the series.

Murphy's latest co-creation, Feud, seen Sundays at 11 p.m. on FX Canada, features Lange alongside Susan Sarandon in a startlingly detailed recreation of old-time Hollywood. Set in 1962, it outlines the bitter rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis that came to a head that year during the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Like Murphy’s other work, which often tackles themes of discrimination like racism and homophobia, Feud examines a serious issue while offering up terrific performances. It’s difficult to watch Lange as Crawford and Sarandon as Davis, skilfully playing actresses who were fighting within an ageist industry, and not think that things haven’t really come that far.

Murphy, like a shark that needs to keep moving, already has his next target in his sights. Taking the series title to its literal extreme, the next season of American Horror Story is reportedly about the recent election in the United States. He might not be Inspector Gadget, but Murphy’s attempt to get to the bottom of that should be interesting.



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